David Friedman’s Sweet Mac Setup
Who are you, what do you do, etc…?
I currently produce a web series for PBS Digital Studios called INVENTORS. It’s part of a larger personal project creating portraits of inventors from all walks of life, from garage tinkerers to famous legends. A book of extensive interviews and photos is in the works.
I’m married to a wonderful woman who’s an Art Director for Marvel.com, which gives me a good excuse to read comics, and we have a two-year-old son.
What is your current setup?
My primary computer is an early 2008 Mac Pro. It’s hooked up to a Dell 24″ monitor that’s a bit older than the Mac. The screen is still color-accurate when calibrated (with a Datacolor Spyder), and I’m fine with the size, but I’m dying to replace it with something more densely pixeled. A Retina desktop monitor can’t come soon enough.
I sit next to a large window, which is nice for sanity but bad for color accuracy. The windows have opaque shutters I can close when doing color critical work.
The Mac’s hard drive bays are all in use: Bay 1 is my SSD boot drive — it’s fast but small, so I have my Documents, Downloads, and Pictures folders symlinked to a drive in Bay 2. My iTunes media is on a drive in Bay 3. And Bay 4 has a drive for scratch purposes and other temporary storage.
I have a Western Digital MyBook that keeps backups of the drives in Bays 1 & 2 via Time Machine. At some point I accumulated a second MyBook that I keep around as a Magic Install Disk which has come in surprisingly handy.
I replaced the SuperDrive with a Blu-Ray burner even though optical media is on the decline, because I still like having a write-once copy of my photo archive as a last resort backup. I take comfort knowing it’s impossible to accidentally overwrite a file with a corrupt or altered version. So after every 25 GB of shooting, I burn a disc.
I have a Drobo (2nd generation) which holds the primary copy of my photo archive. Every photo I’ve ever shot digitally for personal or freelance work is connected live and easily accessible.
I use a 6×8 Wacom Intuos3 stylus, switching between mouse and pen more or less equally depending on the task. I own an Apple wireless keyboard, but tend to use the wired keyboard because I like having a number pad.
Both my household and business are mostly paperless. For document scanning I use a Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M. I have a physical inbox currently backlogged with stuff to be scanned.
My monitor has neither camera nor microphone, so I use an old Logitech webcam for rare video chatting and occasional dictation. I’m much more likely to use my iPhone for video chat, usually down on the floor with my son chatting with my parents.
My secondary Mac is a Late 2011 15″ MacBook Pro. I don’t use it most days. It’s mainly for when I’m shooting tethered on location or traveling and need something more than an iPad.
I usually sit in a Humanscale Freedom task chair (the no-headrest model) I got cheap from a company going out of business. It’s okay.
Why this rig?
It’s the first Mac I ever bought. Here is my switch story:
I’ve always been fairly Apple/PC ambidextrous. Our first family computer was an Apple II (well, a clone). Sometime in the early 90s we got a PC and I learned to use DOS and Windows. Eventually I took that PC with me to college and my parents replaced it with a Mac. When I moved to New York in 1997, just starting out on my own with a small income, I bought another PC. I didn’t think Macs were as affordable, and I already had a lot of Windows software I would need to buy again for the Mac, so a PC worked well for me.
At the same time, I started working in the photo studio at Christie’s auction house. They had just transitioned to a fully digital workflow, a very rare thing in 1997. They were using Macs, so that’s what I used by day, and then went home to my Windows machine. Eventually I left Christie’s to become the staff photographer at Polo Ralph Lauren which insisted I used Windows for corporate reasons. But I continued to be adept at both platforms.
In 2007, I decided to quit my cushy life as a staff photographer and go freelance. I updated my computer to the latest, fastest, and greatest Dell computer I could afford, and it came with the latest and greatest version of Windows: Vista. It was garbage. I hated everything about it.
2007 is also when I moved in with my soon-to-be wife, a graphic designer who had a Mac. Watching her use OS X while I struggled with Vista made it harder to tolerate my own computer. Software for the Mac was more abundant than ever, and the games I used to play on the PC were less important to me.
So in early 2008 I took the plunge. I’d had a good first year as a freelancer, so I could afford to trade up. I got rid of the Vista machine and went all-in with the Mac described above. I kept the Dell monitor. Apple’s switch to Intel gave me confidence that if I really needed a Windows application I couldn’t replace on the Mac I could still run it in a Virtual Machine, and that made the switch easy. I haven’t looked back.
What software do you use and for what do you use it?
Specific to my work:
- Lightroom for the majority of my photo image editing and maintaining my archive.
- Photoshop for retouching, but less and less as Lightroom gains more powerful non-destructive capabilities that use all the photo’s raw data.
- Since I do a lot of video these days, I recently updated to the entire Adobe CS6 Master Collection and use Adobe Premiere Pro. I had been using Final Cut Pro but found Premiere to be more stable and faster, despite some nice features I miss from FCP. I purchased the full version instead of getting a Creative Cloud subscription.
- Parallels so I can use QuickBooks for Windows, to make things easier for my accountant.
More generally useful apps I use. For OS X:
- Apple Mail
- Keyboard Maestro — I’m finding more and more use for this handy tool.
- Isolator for when I want to work in single-app mode but don’t want to run that app full screen.
- Things went from frustrating to amazing once they worked out their syncing issues. It still lacks features I’d like to see, but it’s my To-Do App of choice.
- Leap is a great visual alternative to Finder. I use it primarily with my various folders of PDFs. It helps me mentally to just think of Leap as my digital filing cabinet.
- nvALT for notes. I sync to individual text files on Dropbox.
- ChronoSync for copying crucial files across drives, specifically because it does verification.
- CrashPlan for cloud backup.
- iBank for managing my home finances. I don’t love it, but it gets the job done, and they are clearly trying to make good software in a space that badly need it. I’ve tried other apps trying to solve this problem for the Mac, but settled on iBank.
- Hazel for automated filing of documents.
- Pixel City is a screen saver which flies through a procedurally generated city. I’m not usually a screen saver guy, but this one is nice, seldom seen, and not overly distracting when it comes on. Sadly, the Mac port doesn’t appear to be easily available anymore, but I think the source code is free somewhere. If you can find it, make sure you get the 1.1 version for compatibility with recent OS X versions.
And for iOS in no particular order:
- Google Maps
- Scanner Pro
- Remoteless lets you control the Desktop version of Spotify from your iPhone
- Fantastical— I’ve tried a lot of iPhone calendar alternatives, and this is the only one I’ve stuck with.
- Photogene is a full-featured photo editor that’s not trying too hard to be cool.
- Easy Release is a simple model release app so I never have to worry about having them on hand.
- FiLMiC Pro — when I need to use my iPhone as an extra video camera, this app lets me match the frame rate of my primary camera (usually 24 frames per second instead of the iPhone stock camera’s 30 frames) and select the bit rate. I confess I haven’t done a real test to see just how well it does what it claims, as I imagine it must use some sort of trickery to accomplish its magic.
- Instacast (I’m longing for a desktop version to sync with!)
- Team Coco — I cut the cable cord a few years ago, so it’s great to see full episodes of Conan on here. Although actually I tend to just listen to it when I go to bed.
- TiVo lets you do everything you’d expect it to do from your phone. Surprisingly useful.
- Dark Sky is maybe my most-useful weather app.
- WriteRoom for notes, syncing to Dropbox.
- Kindle — I use the Mac ecosystem because it’s the best for me, but I know that might not always be the case. Who knows what I’ll use in twenty years? Since Amazon seems to want Kindle on all devices, I see it as the most future-proof eBook ecosystem.
- Google Authenticator for 2-step verification.
- Launch Center Pro — more useful than I realized it would be when I bought it.
- Alien Blue (a nice app for lurking on reddit)
- Navigon MobileNavigator — for me, this is the best GPS software for driving, but I haven’t tried them all. I quite like it, though. (North America edition)
- Day One I have never been much of a journal writer, but having a kid changed that. I like jotting down my son’s milestones and adventures.
- Marvel Unlimited — I’m biased because my wife worked on this, but Marvel Unlimited is an awesome service. I’ve been getting back into comics this year after an extended absence, and this is such a great way to catch up on all the story lines I missed over the years. Yeah, there are bugs (not her fault) and the occasional missing issue in the middle of a story here and there, but I’m sure those things will be ironed out. There is just so much great content here. Access to 13,000+ comics from 70 years of Marvel history for so little money is such a bargain.
How does this setup help you do your best creative work?
I’m not sure my current physical setup does much for me creatively, to be honest. It’s mainly the software, and in that sense I benefit from the work other people did. Other people figured out what’s needed in a good video editor before I ever started shooting video. Other people figured out how to capture raw photo data and how to get the most from it. Other people solved a lot of technical problems for me before I even knew I had them. Because of those engineers, obstacles get out of my way and let me just concentrate on getting things done.
How would your ideal setup look and function?
The biggest thing I would change in my setup is its location. I enjoy having a home office, but it’s not isolated enough from the rest of my living space. This makes it tough to separate work from life. I could really use an extra room as my office.
Next, I’d get rid of wires. Unfortunately wireless tech isn’t quite a match for my needs right now, but I hope that changes soon.
Also, I’d have a camera bag that was bigger on the inside than the outside, stores all the gear I need for travel and location work, fits in an overhead bin, and barely weighs anything.
More Sweet Setups
David’s setup is one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.Publishing this site is my full-time job. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting the site by becoming a member. There are some great perks, including access to my members-only podcast.